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Annan says 52 Palestinians killed in Jenin

By WILLIAM M. REILLY - UPI  8/1/2002

UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 1 (UPI) -- Without using the word massacre, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's General Assembly report Thursday said Israel's spring offensive in the West Bank killed at least 52 Palestinians in Jenin, up to half of whom may have been civilians.

Written without a visit to Jenin or other Palestinian cities, the report covers from the beginning of March to May 7 when the General Assembly adopted a resolution criticizing Israel for refusing to cooperate with a fact-finding mission proposed by the secretary-general and backed by the Security Council. Annan's proposal was initiated after conferring with Israeli officials.

"While some of the facts may be in dispute, I think it is clear that the Palestinian population have suffered, and are suffering, the humanitarian consequences, which is very severe," Annan said Thursday as he entered U.N. headquarters. "I would hope that both parties would draw the right lessons from this tragic episode and take steps to end the cycle of violence, which is killing innocent civilians on both sides."

The 42-page document described the security and humanitarian responsibilities of both parties and tallied rising casualties since the intifada began September 2000. By May 7 the violence had resulted in the deaths of 441 Israelis and 1,539 Palestinians.

Israel's Operation Defensive Shield to rout out militants comprised "the most extensive military incursions in a decade" and lasted far longer than its officially announced conclusion April 21.

The fighting took place in areas heavily populated by civilians, largely because armed Palestinian groups sought by the Israeli Defense Forces placed combatants and installations among civilians and in many cases heavy weaponry was used, the report said. As a result, the populations of the cities suffered, and continue to suffer, severe hardships.

Some Palestinians had claimed more than 500 civilian deaths in Jenin, calling it a "massacre."

Asked about the report not using the word "massacre" in relation to the 52 dead in Jenin, a senior U.N. official told reporters: "We don't say there was a massacre. We don't say there was not a massacre. We deliberately avoid using words like 'massacre,' which have a high emotional charge but no agreed definition. In any case we have not been in a position to make judgments."

The report described the concerns of Israel that a number of Palestinian cities served as bases for Palestinian militants and their attacks against Israel. It also pointed out that Palestinian groups were alleged to have widely booby-trapped civilian homes -- acts which targeted Israeli personnel, but also placed civilians in danger. It quoted the Palestinian Authority as acknowledging that a number of Palestinian fighters resisted the Israeli military assault.

However, the report referred to allegations from the Palestinian Authority and human rights organizations that in the course of their operations the Israeli troops engaged in unlawful killings, the use of human shields, disproportionate use of force, arbitrary arrests and torture and denial of medical treatment and access. In part, it points to the fact that more than 2,800 refugee housing units were damaged and 878 homes were destroyed, leaving more than 17,000 people homeless or in need of shelter rehabilitation.

It also cited cases where Israeli forces attacked ambulances or otherwise failed to respect the neutrality of medical and humanitarian workers.

The findings show that the Israelis lost 30 soldiers during Operation Defensive Shield. During the entire period reviewed, Israel also suffered about 16 bombings, the majority of them suicide attacks, resulting in the death of 100 people and injuries to scores of others.

On the Palestinian side, 497 were killed and 1,447 wounded in the course of the Israeli reoccupation of Palestinian areas during the more-than-two-month period and in the immediate aftermath. Most accounts estimate that between 70 and 80 Palestinians, including about 50 civilians, were killed in Nablus, where four Israeli soldiers lost their lives.

In Jenin, by the time of the Israeli withdrawal and the lifting of the curfew on April 18, "at least 52 Palestinians, possibly half of them civilians, and 23 Israeli soldiers were dead. Many more were injured," the report said. "Approximately 150 buildings had been destroyed and many others were rendered structurally unsound." It said 450 families were homeless and the cost of destruction was put at $27 million in Jenin.

Allegations by a senior Palestinian Authority official that some 500 were killed in Jenin were not substantiated, the report said.

As for the overall impact, the events continue to have repercussions, resulting in the intensification of the hardships faced by the civilian population in the occupied Palestinian territory.

There has been a near-complete cessation of all productive activity in the main West Bank centers of manufacturing, construction, commerce and private and public services, exacerbating a severe decline in living standards over the last 18 months.

While the United Nations does not have a mandate to report on conditions in Israel, the report said it was apparent that the violence, especially the militant attacks, have also caused enormous suffering for the Israeli people and the country's economy.

The report said it relied on "available resources and information," as requested by the General Assembly. Such sources included submissions from six U.N. members, but not Israel, and observer missions, including the Palestinians, documents in the public domain and papers submitted by non-governmental organizations, including statements by Israeli officials.

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